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Chasing Secrets

Chapter Text

All things considered, Peter Quill had a sort of natural ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time Combined with his natural propensity to try to do both what would be most beneficial for him, and what was the supposedly “objective” right thing to do, it tended to get him into situations he wasn’t able to get out of. It had gotten him into fights as a child. It had gotten him abducted by aliens the day his mother died. It had gotten him into more trouble than he could count as an adult (he was always a sucker for a pretty face).

And it had gotten him blamed for a terrorist attack on Xandar.

Really, the smart thing to do would have been to run like hell in the other direction when things started exploding. Hell, he wasn’t even supposed to have been on Xandar in the first place- he was supposed to have been halfway to Morag by then- but he’d decided to stop on Xandar first and see if one of his flings was up for a bit of something-something. She hadn’t been- she’d threatened to literally throw him out of her tenth-story window- but that hadn’t deterred him at all. Xandar had enough clubs and dance-halls and other places where one could go to meet someone who’d be up for a no-strings-attached night of fun.

Peter had been halfway to one of his favorites, when he heard a loud booming sound, followed immediately by terrified screaming and a plume of smoke rising up to fill the sky. By the time he’d processed that he’d just heard an explosion, there had already been two more of them. Instead of doing the sensible thing and running back to his ship to get the hell out of Dodge, he’d decided to do the stupid thing and run towards the explosion.

Really, he didn’t know why he’d done it. If there was one thing that growing up with Ravagers had taught him, it was that there was no profit in doing things out of the goodness of your heart. While you were distracted, someone else would slip in, grab your big score, and get all the glory, credit, and units for it.  Yondu had made sure he’d understood that early on. But somehow, Peter wasn’t able to completely kill that altruistic streak that had budded during his short time on Terra. 

Maybe it was seeing the woman stumbling out of her bombed-out apartment building clutching her wounded child to her chest while screaming for medical help. Maybe it was seeing the man digging through a pile of rubble while shouting his wife’s name. Maybe it was seeing the little boy sitting in the middle of the street crying for his mother. Maybe it was a combination of all of those- but whatever the cause, Peter Quill found himself running towards the epicenter of the blasts, grabbing the terrified little boy out of the street as he ran, setting him down safely on the other side within sight of the Nova Corps officers who’d arrived on the scene- they’d be able to take care of him better than Peter would.

He’d barely begun trying to help dig out a man trapped under what appeared to be the remains of a load-bearing wall when he found himself encased in a projection of the Nova Force while a dour-faced officer glared down at him. Before Peter had a chance to ask what the hell was going on, he found himself dragged before the Nova Prime, accused of being part of a radical Kree terrorist cell that had carried out the attack, and summarily sentenced to a high-security prison.

No matter how many times Peter protested that he wasn’t a Kree terrorist – “Seriously!!? Do I look blue to you? Why would I want to work with those racist bastards? Do you really think they’d even accept me in the first place?!” – his criminal record as a Ravager was held against him, as was his personal connection to Yondu Udonta. Huh, who would have known that when he was younger, Yondu had briefly worked with a Kree radical group? Oh, sure, he’d ended up stealing a huge amount of units from them, and probably thwarted an attack that would have been similar in scale to this one, but the fact that Yondu had pretended to work with them was enough to make Peter guilty by association. That, combined with the testimony of the Nova Corps Denarian- a man named Saal, he learned at the trial- was enough to get him sentenced to life in a high-security prison. Apparently, running towards what eventually was revealed to be an unexploded bomb was considered good proof that you were a terrorist going to see why the bomb hadn’t exploded in the first place.

Despite Peter’s protests that yeah, he’d broken the law before- he was a thief, after all- but that he’d never murder innocent civilians for whatever reason, the jury didn’t believe him, and Nova Prime had concurred. The people of Xandar were crying out for their pound of flesh, and as they hadn’t caught anyone who they could even tenuously connect to the crime other than Peter, it just made sense to put him away.

Apparently, innocence wasn’t a defense against charges of wrongdoing on Xandar.

Two years he’d waited in the Kyln, fending off angry Xandarians, amorous aliens, and actual Kree radicals. Sometimes, Peter felt that the only thing keeping him sane was his rage. Once he got out of here- and it really was only a matter of time before Yondu or Kraglin or Maka or someone realized that they hadn’t seen him in two years and busted him out of here- the first thing he was going to do was go hunt down the real terrorists. Nobody framed Peter Quill for murder and got away with it!

And then the second thing he was going to do was track down Denarian Saal and kick his ass. While he wasn’t quite as high on Peter’s shitlist as the terrorists, he was pretty far up there. Nobody actually fell for Peter Quill being framed for murder and got away with it, either!

Ultimately, his chance to escape happened when a loudmouthed talking raccoon, a bizarre tree-like alien, a tattooed hulk of a man, and a suspiciously-familiar green woman caused enough of a diversion. What kind of lunatic flew a goddamn guard tower through the prison after turning off the artificial gravity? Once the guards had managed to get the gravity fixed, everything was in such chaos that nobody noticed a single Terran slip away, grab his things, and commandeer his ship back.

Setting his course for Xandar, Peter popped his tape into the tape deck, and got to plotting. He’d have to do this carefully- it would probably be a while before anyone realized he was gone, but once they did, there would be a massive manhunt for him, he suspected. As far as Xandar was concerned, he was a complete maniac who had no compunction about blowing up a residential district. Finding out that somebody like that was on the loose would terrify him, too, especially if they found out he was heading for Xandar in the first place.

Most of the time, Garthan Saal enjoyed his job. It was an honor to be a part of the Nova Corps, keeping the people of Xandar, and all of the galaxy, safe. But some days he wondered if he should have just stayed home and taken over his father’s noodle shop.

Those days tended to be few and far between, but when they did happen, sometimes he was halfway to Nova Prime’s office to tender his resignation before he finally snapped out of it and remembered that he really hated noodles. But after the day he’d had, he sort of wondered if maybe it was time to just endure his dislike of the dish and give noodles another try.

Garthan had spent the first half of the day poring over the reports coming from the breakout at the Kyln- both guards and prisoners had given their statements, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that pretty much all of the reports more or less corroborated, he would have said that the whole debacle was the work of a particularly imaginative drama scriptwriter. The group of escapees was outlandish enough- an escaped genetic experiment, a Flora Colossus, an extremely dangerous homicidal maniac, and a terrorist known to be an adopted daughter of Thanos. Privately, Garthan was amazed they’d all refrained from killing each other long enough to come up with a semi-coherent plan of escape, much less actually pull it off, but that wasn’t even the crazy part. Apparently they’d done it by barricading themselves in a guard tower and turning off the artificial gravity everywhere else in the prison other than the tower. They’d manage to crash it through the reinforced steel doors and get out that way, but not before causing plenty of carnage and mayhem in the process. Even several days later they still didn’t have an accurate count of the casualties. About a quarter of the prisoners were unaccounted for, and about a sixth of the guards were still missing, but Garthan had an unpleasant feeling that once they managed to identify the many unrecognizably squashed remains they’d find most of the missing.

The incident was meant to have been kept quiet- the Nova Corps would investigate, determine what happened, sanitize the story a bit, and then it would be sent to the press in the form of a controlled conference with Nova Prime. But the true story had leaked, and such a bizarre incident was prime fodder for the press. Unfortunately, the facts had gotten somewhat scrambled, and now the public was convinced that there was a team of homicidal maniacs headed straight for Xandar to slaughter them all.

Garthan had drawn the short straw and had to give the press conference, reassuring everyone that the Nova Corps had everything under control that the fugitives would be apprehended, and order would be restored. Of course, after the furor that the damn tabloids had whipped up, convincing people of that was not a very easy task. He’d spent all day being questioned furiously, and attempting to dispel some of the crazier rumors- (no, the escaped fugitives had not stolen Asgardian technology, and no, they were not part of a interplanetary drug cartel intending to get everyone addicted to spice, and they most certainly were not using stolen Asgardian technology to get everyone addicted to spice).

Exhausted, Garthan slid the key into the lock, letting himself into his apartment. He intended to have a quick meal, take a nice bath, and then go to sleep. He was tired, and he felt he deserved it after the day he’d had.

He was so tired that he’d failed to notice the insectoid human-like creature with glowing red eyes lurking behind the door. Before Garthan could process what was happening, the humanoid stuck him in the neck with something he belatedly realized was a hypodermic needle.  Garthan went down like a sack of rocks, blackness descending over his sight.. The last thing he heard before the darkness took him completely was a slight metallic “heh” from the thing.

Gradually, like he was swimming through syrup to reach the air, Garthan came to. Whatever drug had been in that needle was potent- even though he was awake now, he still felt dizzy and sickly, like he’d spent some time spinning around like a child playing a game. Once he’d recovered enough to actually process higher-order thought, he started taking stock of his surroundings.

He was tied to a chair. Usually, that was not a good sign, but whoever had tied him up had seemed to take care that the bonds wouldn’t hurt him. They were certainly secure enough that he wouldn’t be able to get out of them without help, but the ropes weren’t digging into his skin, or cutting off his circulation. There was enough slack in the ropes binding his hands that he could move them around a bit- still not enough to free himself, but he was able to move them enough to scratch his nose if necessary. His legs were tied somewhat more tightly, but still did not bite into him too harshly.

The room he was in was tiny. And messy. It appeared to be someone’s bedroom- there was an unmade bed in the corner, and clothes and other personal effects were scattered over every available surface. Garthan wrinkled his nose as he noticed a pair of boxer shorts casually flung over what looked like a communicator charging station. That couldn’t be sanitary.

And then it belatedly hit him. He was being held captive in someone’s bedroom.

That was a first. Usually if criminals actually managed to keep a Nova Corps officer imprisoned, they kept them in a storage warehouse or something, not in their bedroom. Maybe this had nothing to do with his status as a Nova Corps officer… maybe he’d had some kind of stalker that he hadn’t noticed, with more… indecent… intentions towards him.

With that in mind, Garthan started wiggling even more frantically, testing out his bonds, to see if he could free himself completely, or at least get his hands loose enough to be able to fight back if necessary.

Before he was able to wiggle himself to freedom, however, the door to the room opened, and Garthan watched as his captor swaggered in.

“Quill,” he spat.

“Denarian Saal,” Peter Quill replied with a smirk. “Welcome aboard!”

“Welcome aboard?” Garthan replied incredulously. “You break out of prison, kidnap me, and tie me up in your bedroom, and the only thing you have to say to me is ‘welcome aboard?!’”

“Sheesh,” Peter said, surveying the enraged Denarian with an infuriatingly cocky smirk. “You try to make a guy comfortable and look at the thanks you get! Would you rather I tied you up in the cargo hold? There’s no climate control down there, and I’d have to tie you to a support beam so you’d hang from your wrists. But hey, if you’re into that sort of thing…” he grinned, only infuriating Garthan more.

“Release me,” he ordered, trying to sound as imperious as he could. “Let me go and I won’t argue for your execution when you’re returned to the Kyln, where you belong.”

The grin slid right off of Peter’s face. “I won’t go back to the Kyln,” he said seriously. “And I can’t let you go.” He sighed, plopping down onto the bed so that he was sitting at Garthan’s height. “There is no Kyln anymore. It’s gone. The whole thing’s gone. There were no survivors, except for me and the other escapees. And I saved your life, man! If I hadn’t taken you when I did, you’d be dead.”

“What happened?” Garthan couldn’t help himself. Why was he even bothering? Of course Peter Quill had something to do with it- the man was a murderer! He’d already blown up a city block! He already knew what had happened- there wasn’t any other possibility.

Peter sighed. “What do you know of a man named Ronan the Accuser?” he asked.

“Ronan the Accuser? He’s a Kree terrorist, responsible for the murder of many Xandarians- and you’ve worked with him, haven’t you.”

“What?! Of course I haven’t!” Peter replied indignantly. “Look man, I might be a thief, but I’ve never been involved with that crazy bastard. Believe it or not, I’m not a complete dick!”

“Yet you set off that bomb,” Garthan sneered. “Of course you weren’t connected to Ronan, you just carried out his orders.”

“I did not!” Peter snapped. “I don’t know what you think you know, but you don’t actually know anything! Yeah, I was there that day the attack happened. And yeah, I was on Xandar to pick up some stuff, and take a break from being alone in empty space!. And yeah, I was in that block because I was visiting one of the- uh- my friends,” he quickly caught himself before he revealed anything too awkward. “She lived in that apartment block,” he continued. “I was halfway up the street when the bomb went off, and like the idiot I am, as soon as I heard the screaming and cries for help, I ran towards it. I don’t know, I couldn’t ignore it. And then you showed up and arrested me, and threw me in that prison.”

Peter took a deep breath. “You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to trust me with anything other than this. I swear- I swear on my mother’s grave I didn’t have anything to do with that attack.” He winced. “I broke out of prison when the others did because of what I learned while I was in there.”

Peter looked so serious, that Garthan couldn’t help but instinctively trust want to know what he had to say. Maybe it was all a pack of lies, but since he was tied up here, he might as well at least pretend to listen to the Ravager. And somehow, he almost believed him. Maybe it was the seriousness with which the man spoke, free of the snarky quips he’d had to endure during Peter’s trial.

At the very least, it couldn’t hurt to listen to him. Garthan inclined his head minutely, and Peter continued.

“Ronan is working with Thanos,” he simply stated. Garthan’s blood went cold. The Mad Titan was well-known- he was cruel, sadistic, and very creative with the ways he destroyed worlds. If Ronan had allied himself with Thanos, then all of Xandar was in danger. Actually, the entire galaxy was in danger. Thanos’ obsession with annihilation wouldn’t stop with just one planet.

“Do you know for sure?” Garthan asked. Peter nodded.

“Thanos’ daughter- she was in the Kyln with me, she knows what his plans are, and she knows what Ronan’s objectives are,” he replied.  “Look, you don’t have to trust me in anything else,” he added. “But you need to believe me. Everyone- you, me, Xandar- the entire fucking galaxy- is in danger if you don’t.” Peter’s lips twisted a little. “I’m not happy about it either, believe me. You falsely accused me of terrorism! But you’re the only one who can help me.”

Garthan did not speak for a few minutes, mulling things over in his head. This had to be one of the weirdest days of his life. If Quill was telling the truth, there was much more at stake than just his own life. The entire galaxy could be in serious danger from the genocidal Kree, not to mention his extremely powerful, insane ally. But was it really possible for two people to stop them both?

“What do you want me to do?” Garthan asked weakly. “What can we actually do?”

Peter’s face twisted into a rather disturbing rictus grin. It was out of place on the usually laughing face, Garthan thought, and shivered.

“We’re going to kill Ronan the Accuser.”